As is my custom, I conducted some interviews before writing my response to the question, “Do you believe that faith can affect your health or is that a lot of new age nonsense?”
“A no-brainer,” said a World War II med-vet. “How could anybody imagine that faith can’t affect your health?”
“It depends on what the faith is in,” said a hospice chaplain. “If you believe more in God’s judgment than in his mercy, your faith can have a negative effect on your health.”
“Faith can help your inner health when your outer health, health of body, does not have a hopeful prognosis,” said a man on permanent disability.
“Regular church-going correlates with better health except in the case of church secretaries,” said a church secretary. (She was ruefully remarking the strainfulness of this occupation, not commenting on “church-going” as public worship.)
1……In the question, what follows “or” unwittingly explains the existence of the question. The religion-and-health connection was and is assumed by all but a thin sliver of humanity, the positivist-materialist sliver that severs spirit from body and denies the existence of spirit. “New age” spirituality and religion post-modernly restore the body-spirit living unity; instead of being “new” in this regard, it is re-old, restorationist.
2……The science of commensurables (measurables/quantifiables/weighables) has been so successful that for short it’s called “science” (Latin for knowledge). But the science (i.e., knowledge) of what can’t be physically measured—faith, hope, love, the virtues and vices, poetry and the other products of “soul”—preceded by millennia the science of “body.” Efforts to apply the principles of the latter to the realities of the former are laughable. / One such recent attempt gained widespread media attention. Correlating prayers for healing (how much prayer, by how many?) with healing, the study (predictably) found no measurable correlation. Beyond the measurable (i.e., “science” in the narrow sense), human consciousness is in the realm of metaphor and anecdote. The immanent and the transcendent are different levels, layers, or dimensions of reality. / An anecdote: Not many days after my 90th birthday, a surgeon announced that I was dying. Leaders of our church family gathered around my hospital bed, and we celebrated Holy Communion. The lead physician happened in on us and said, “Sorry for the interruption. What you are doing is more important than anything I can do.” Dear reader: Whatever comment you may have on this event will say more about you than about the event.
3……Fakes are compliments to facts as counterfeits are to authentics. Faith-healing is a fact inviting many fakes, who give a bad name to faith-healing and to faith. On a walk in 1942, Ernest Cadman Colwell (an eminent scholar of the Gospels, dean of the very liberal University of Chicago Divinity School, later president of the University) said to me, “It’s ironic that those who want to see Jesus’ healings as hagiographic additions to his story must now confront the fact that they are in the earliest layer of our information about him.” Faith-healing is fact, a human fact in history and the here-and-now.
4……In a 1969 “Newsweek,” Kenneth Woodward remarked on my use of Psalm 84:2 in interviewing prospective faculty for New York Theological Seminary. I asked, “What are you longing for?” and “What are you singing about?” The New Living Translation (1996) well renders thus: “With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.” The Hebrew here uses “basar” for what you can see about a human being (call it “flesh” or “body”), and “lev” for all you can’t see (call it “heart” or “spirit” or “mind” or “soul”). The unity and integrity of basar + lev is assumed. The Jewish and Christian doctrine of the resurrection further assumes that this unity-integrity is mysteriously revived after death, as in the resurrection of Jesus.
5……As the Bible sees it – and as research increasingly confirms – a person’s “whole being” – in sickness and in health – is a physical-spiritual continuum, making this “On Faith” question – indeed – a no-brainer.